Jobless numbers ratchet up for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin

Unemployment rates in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties swelled above last year's averages, the result of a shaky economy and deepening housing crisis.

The three counties each gained at least a percentage point from the previous year, with Stanislaus County recording the biggest jump. The county went from an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in September 2006 to 8 percent last month, according to state Employment Development figures released Friday.

"It is indicative of the economy shifting," said Liz Baker, EDD labor market analyst for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

"We are seeing effects on the ability to find jobs. It is definitely a change. It is getting tougher as the market gets tighter. More people are vying for jobs. It is an employer's market; they have the pick at this point," Baker said.

Manufacturing jobs were down 1,500 last month from August, most of which were seasonal job cuts as canneries wrapped up the harvest, Baker said.

The most recent round of layoffs at the Hershey Co. plant in Oakdale -- 294 employees were laid off Oct. 1 -- was not included. Those numbers likely will show up next month, Baker said.

The biggest job-gainer in the county was health care, which grew by 500 jobs. A majority of those positions likely are tied to the new Kaiser hospital in Modesto, Baker said.

However, those figures are anemic in comparison with the job growth of previous years. During the housing boom, construction and financial activities were posting much larger job gains, she said.

"Those are flattening or going downward, and other sectors like health care are standing out more," Baker said. That could be viewed as a bright point, she said, because it means that other industries are able to pick up some of the slack.

Rates spike in foothill counties

The housing slowdown has taken an even larger toll on San Joaquin County. Its unemployment rate was 7.8 percent last month, up from 6.5 percent the previous year.

The county saw huge declines in manufacturing, construction, professional business services and financial activities. Combined, those industries lost about 2,100 jobs.

"All are definitely related to the housing crisis and mortgage credit issues," Baker said.

The foothill counties of Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne also showed spikes in unemployment rates from the previous year, though for the most part the increases were not as dramatic as in the valley counties.

California's economy added a modest 9,300 payroll jobs last month, with the information sector generating the biggest gains and construction posting the most losses, the state reported.

The information sector, which encompasses jobs in the com- puter data field, added 7,900 jobs. Construction shed 5,000.

The state's unemployment rate stood at 5.6 percent in September, up from 5.5 percent in August and 4.8 percent in September 2006.

The construction sector, reeling from the downturn in home sales, posted the steepest decline over 12 months, 28,600 jobs statewide.

Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at csalerno@modbee.com or 238-4574.